Contrary to popular belief, makeup isn’t inherently sexist. Yes, there are times when cosmetics can be used as a patriarchal tool – an employer firing a woman because her bare face isn’t “presentable,” magazine covers that shame female celebs who decided to go makeup-free while grocery shopping, schoolchildren bullying boys, trans or gender non-conforming peers who rock lipstick – but taking the time to contour, highlight, blend, wing and get that perfect matte lip can also be empowering.
For femme Latina Ariana Rodriguez Zertuche, the process of applying makeup is an act of radical self-care, and that is feminist.
“Chela Sandoval says ‘make-up is the Chicana's war paint,’ and I like that because, for me, my makeup is very in your face. It’s not subtle, and I don’t want it to be. It’s my war paint. It’s the armor me, and other Latinas and femmes of color, put on in the mornings to face the systems that work against us,” the part-mexicana, part-peruana tells Latina.
In 2015, Rodriguez Zertuche, a community organizer in Los Angeles, made the Femme Power Makeup tutorial, a short video for a feminist studies course that she uploaded to YouTube that addresses feminism, femme of color power and femmephobia, all while the 22-year-old applies her morning “war paint.”
“For me, a queer femme of color, to take the time and care that goes into applying makeup is radical; it's political warfare, as Audre Lorde says,” Rodriguez Zertuche explains as Nicki Minaj sings “pretty on fleek” in the background of the almost 6-minute video. “My eyeliner wing is so sharp, I can cut any street harasser's heart out."
Don’t get it twisted. Rodriguez Zertuche doesn’t need makeup to feel beautiful. For her, “it’s the process, honoring that moment and investing time in myself,” whether through cosmetics, time spent with her mom at the hair salon or even buying herself flowers, that empowers the young diosa. Still, she doesn’t deny that looking in a mirror and taking pleasure in what she sees – feeling beautiful – is revolutionary.
“Like all Latinas in the U.S., I feel like I’m ‘ni de aquí, ni de allá,’” she tells us. “But because I’m also occupying two Latina cultural identities, feeling beautiful is difficult. I don’t look ‘Mexican’ or ‘peruana,’ so finding my own beauty and 'unique' look, that’s how I feel beautiful, and that ties to my femme and Latina identities.”
While Rodriguez Zertuche finds healing, strength and glamour in red and pink lipsticks, eye shadows and blushes, her femme expression is often devalued and deemed inferior. Since “girls’ stuff,” as makeup is perceived, is regarded as shallow or vain, those who participate in it are, too, assessed as nothing more than arm candy.
“People think that’s all we serve, that you can’t be intelligent and femme, so there’s a stigma,” she says.
This shame, the Latina explains, is heightened for trans women of color, who are often pressured to “pass” as cis women while simultaneously being criticized for their femme presentation, leaving little room to truly exist.
Men aren’t the only ones who perpetuate femmephobia, either. Oftentimes, so-called feminists participate in the shaming as well.
“Faux-activists will say 'you're contributing to patriarchy,’ ‘you're not feminist enough,’ ‘blah, blah, blah.’ The policing of femmes of color and the policing of the feminine are not activism. It's not feminist, either. Telling someone that they are too much is telling them that their personhood, their very way of existing and being is too much,” she explains in the video.
Still, when speaking with Latina, Rodriguez Zertuche acknowledges that femmephobic women are dealing with their own internalized misogyny and men, well, they’re simply uncomfortable seeing a feminine person secure and empowered.
A form of survival and resistance, femme identity, Rodriguez Zertuche wants all femmes of color to know, is beautiful and important. “There’s no shade of lipstick that’s too red for you to wear,” she adds.
Get inspired by the Latina’s empowering femme power makeup tutorial above.